'Lack of trust' is a barrier to south east university
A lack of trust between the two main colleges in the south east is frustrating the establishment of a proposed third-level technological university, according to a report commissioned by the Government.
It says the project could go ahead if the "trust" issue is resolved between the existing colleges in Waterford and Carlow.
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan said stakeholders clearly have an overwhelming wish for a university in the region.
However, the report, compiled by the former head of the Higher Education Authority Michael Kelly, highlights the erosion of trust between Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and the Institute of Technology, Carlow.
Mr Kelly also cited the approach taken by WIT as an issue. This made it impossible to have any round-table talks involving both institutes as part of his investigation, he said.
In October, WIT withdrew from previous merger discussions with IT Carlow.
Mr Kelly suggested real progress can only take pace if the chairs and presidents of both colleges meet, and create a framework where mutual trust and respect can be rebuilt.
The heads of both colleges have welcomed the findings, and Mr Kelly said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the matter can be expedited.
Waterford IT has 8,200 full and part-time students, while IT Carlow has 6,325 full and part-time students.
Mr Kelly also said both Waterford IT and IT Carlow have now recommitted to the idea of a college for the south east and have accepted that such an endeavour requires a partner.
"My judgement is that there is sufficient support in general for this to move forward now on to some positive footing," he said.
"But I have suggested that, in the first instance, there does need to be some preliminary engagement, which would ventilate some of the problems of the past.
"I think that's going to be absolutely essential in order to get this on to a foundation of mutual trust, mutual respect, equality of esteem, and they're essential, moving forward."
Mr Kelly pointed out the two colleges are working on proposals to try and move their possible amalgamation on to the next level.
Ibec South East, the group that represents business in the region, said: "We sincerely hope the planning for this can proceed without further delay."